Atheists in Israel? Oh my God!

Yes, it’s true! 2.0 million Jews  ( around  33% of the Jewish population) identify themselves as secular.

But doesn't include them!

Surveys have shown that Israel – The Holy Land – has one of the highest proportions of  non believers in the world! Zuckerman in a 1995 survey found a figure of between 15 – 37%, Greely and Jagodinsky found around 26% in 1991.

Extrapolating these figures to the present day, produces a figure of around 2.0 million. Israel’s non- Jewish population was included in the surveys but this is misleading. Whilst a few  Christians might  be secret non believers, it is extremely unlikely that this would be true of Muslims. Consequently the true percentage,  just for Jews, is higher. For the purposes of this article the quoted percentages will suffice.

What is Jewish Atheism?

Jewish atheism is practiced by atheists who are ethnically, and to some extent culturally, Jewish. Because Jewishness encompasses ethnic as well as religious components, the term “Jewish atheism” does not necessarily imply any kind of contradiction. Based on Jewish law’s emphasis on matrilineal descent,Orthodox Jewish authorities would accept as fully Jewish an atheist born to a Jewish mother.

A high percentage of Israelis identify themselves as secular, rejecting the practice of the Jewish religion (see Religion in Israel). While some non-believers of Jewish ancestry do not consider themselves Jews, preferring to define themselves solely as atheists, Judaism is arguably the paradigm example of the evolution of a culture and tradition that one can embrace without religious faith

Simply put, Judaism is more about actions; less about belief.

How does Atheism exist in Israel, in what many regard as  a religious fundamentalist society?

The short answer is that it seems to exist very well. Contrary to the widely held concept, Orthodox Jews are a very  small proportion of the population.

As of 2009, 8% of Israeli Jews defined themselves as Haredim; an additional 12% as “religious”; 13% as “religious-traditionalists” ; 25% as “non-religious-traditionalists” (not strictly adhering to Jewish law or halakha); and 42% as “secular”

It is true, however, that due to the vagaries of the proportional representational political system, few coalition governments have ever been formed without the active participation of religious parties. Consequently they exert both political and social influence out of proportion to their numerical strength in the population. For example, until recently , civil marriage was not possible. All aspects of  law to do with marriage, divorce and other family matters had to pass through the religious authorities. The Knesset recently passed a law to permit civil marriage, but ONLY between couples who could prove that they belonged to no religion. 

In practice this is almost impossible. Whether this difficulty will be overcome in the future, depends on how the courts deal with the new situation created by the famous writer Yoram Kanuik:

Yoram Kaniuk

Yoram Kaniuk

In May 2011, Kaniuk petitioned the Israeli Interior Ministry to change his religion status from “Jewish” to “no religion.” He cited the fact that his child and infant grandson, because they are descended from a mixed marriage, are legally of no religion, and his desire not to belong to a “Jewish Iran” or “what is today called the religion of Israel.” In October 2011, a district court judge approved his petition, meaning that Kaniuk is now considered a Jew by nationality, but not by religion. Hundreds of other Israelis intend to do the same; a new verb, lehitkaniuk (to Kaniuk oneself) was coined

What effect do Atheists have on the structure of this society.

In spite of the best efforts of the Orthodox Jews, Israel remains, essentially, an Open, Liberal and Pluralistic society.In the fields of Equality for Women, and Gay Rights, Israel is not only unique in the entire Middle East but is on a par with any country in the world.  Gay pride events are held annually in major cities, INCLUDING Jerusalem . LGBT societies are active, and Tel Aviv is an internationally promoted center for Gay tourism,7340,L-3947536,00.html

This is not to say that ALL Gays are atheists, but they are the substantial majority.

Top view of Haifa's Pride Parade, 2007

Gay Pride in Haifa

Naked in the Holy Land

A major event which took place in September 2011 was a photo shoot organised by the well-known American photographer and artist, Spencer Tunick, This involved 1200 Israelis volunteering to be photographed naked in the Dead Sea.

)  More than 1,000 nude Israelis pose for Amer...

Making a statement - 1200 naked Israelis (Image by Getty Images via @daylife)

The Dead Sea is nominated to be one of the 7 natural wonders of the world. This activity was designed to give a boost to its application. The resulting publicity throughout the world was massive. Since the event took place on a Saturday morning  (the Jewish Sabbath) and involved travelling to and from the site by bus, it is safe to assume that none of the participants was religious. ( full disclosure: I was one of them!). Of course, the other aspect of the event was that it could take place at all. Again, in this area of the world, such openness is ONLY possible in Israel.

Israel is one of the few countries in the world in which an Atheist could be elected President or Prime Minister. Could this happen in America?

And , actually it has already happened here.  Prime Minister Golda Meir, when pressed on her belief in God, sidestepped by saying: “I believe in the Jewish People; and the Jewish People believe in God” 

Theodor Herzl leaning over the balcony of the ...

The founder of  Modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl, was an atheist, as were many of Israel’s “Founding Fathers” including its first Prime Minister, David Ben- Gurion. Indeed it would be true to say that, had it not been for a substantial number of non believing Jews, the State of Israel would not have come into being.

Now, is that a paradox or what!

Andyboy – telling it as it is


9 comments on “Atheists in Israel? Oh my God!

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  7. In October 2011, a district court judge approved his petition, meaning that Kaniuk is now considered a Jew by nationality, but not by religion.

    This summarizes the whole problem
    God does not change
    Israel does not change
    Religion does not change
    Truth does not change
    Reality does not change
    All facts of life does not change
    What changes are approaches, comprehensions and understandings?

    It is horrible to witness those entire understandings stray away from their true meanings in our life
    At the same time when many hopes were been held upon a supposedly be a belief

    A religion that is emptying itself from its content to end up as a nationality
    An Israel that is converting itself from being a home-garden to a mere being of a homeland
    A worldview of reality that is eliminating the truth behind every reality
    A truth forsaken for personage benefits, own understandings, selfish purposes and satanic causes
    A fact that Jews, Christian and Mohammaden are the only Heaven-Religion
    Another fact, that Heaven-Religion is becoming man-made beliefs
    And another fact, that all of you Heaven-Religion has lost the path of;
    Adam, homo-sapiens, human-beings call it whatever you understand
    But you have lost the path as;
    God Creation

    Survival of father Adam offspring?
    Continuity of a good life?
    Multiplying father Abraham seed?
    Religion is the guardian of the path?

    Answer with your now-comprehension
    Maybe you will start realizing the rights from your wrongs

    Whichever path you choose to follow
    It is getting here that matters most
    Human-beings being humans

    Then we will have another talk
    Maybe before time is overdue
    Just maybe before the path is locked forever
    And just maybe before witnessing another
    Fall of man

    • ” What changes are approaches, comprehensions and understandings? ”

      That’s exactly right. That’s one element that separates Atheists from – let’s say – Religionists. The power and desire to think, to question, to doubt and to not blindly accept something just because……

      In this respect, I commend to you one of the sayings of Budda:

      Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.

      Of course, I understand that we are not on the same page with this issue – but thanks for taking the trouble to comment.

      Have a nice day!

  8. I’m interested in how the Israeli state granted Kaniuk an identity status of “Jew of no religion” before he died, but it fought hard in court against another atheist, Professor Uzzi Ornan, over his attempt to define himself as an Israeli, not Jewish, by nationality. By that reasoning, because of the constitutional ties between Jewish identity and Israeli nationality, they successfully argued that Ornan simply couldn’t define himself to Israel as a mere Israeli, even though he was born in Israel/spoke Hebrew/was born to Jews/lived there most of his life.

    It’s like if you didn’t have the opportunity in America to define yourself on the U.S. Census as “American”, but could only define yourself by ticking your ethnic and/or religious background.

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